Abu Dhabi: As the taxi took a sudden right turn into a side street, the driver in the car behind slammed his horn in anger and drove past, his frustration apparent. The taxi driver apologised to this Gulf News reporter, who was a little angry at him at the time for not paying attention. But a short conversation later, it emerged that he’d had a tough few days which was affecting his concentration.
“I have received a few fines and my salary will be less this month,” said Saeed, the taxi driver.
It was an admission that altered the regular perspective on taxi drivers being negligent or reckless. After all, it is not uncommon for motorists or for people who use taxis frequently to get angry with taxi drivers for various lapses in driving. However, it may be worthwhile to spare a thought for them given the fact that it is quite a demanding job they try to do justice to.
Gulf News spoke with a number of taxi drivers in the capital to get a better understanding of their job and the stresses involved.
Taxi drivers have to meet a daily target of about Dh425 a day, for which they receive a 30 per cent commission. Their minimum daily target is around Dh200 a day, for which they earn no commission and a Dh800 salary at the end of the month. Targets and commissions varied slightly depending on which of the six taxi companies operating in Abu Dhabi they work for, excluding the airport taxi company.
Ahmed from India, a 52-year-old, has been a taxi driver in Abu Dhabi for around six years. He said he drives about 12 to 15 hours a day depending on whether he has reached his daily target or not.
“The hours can be long and sometimes I experience back pain, but I still like my job,” said Ahmed.
He said that he strives to be a safe driver at all times but he can understand why some of his colleagues might drive in a hurry.
“Time is money. The sooner they finish with one customer, the more chances they have of picking up another and meeting their target,” explained Ahmed.
“If you are fined or if a customer complains about you, it can be stressful and then you will not be able to concentrate. It can cause a lot of tension in some drivers,” Ahmed added.
According to Ahmed and other drivers that Gulf News spoke with, taxi drivers can be fined by Abu Dhabi’s taxi regulating authority, the Centre for Regulation of Transport by Hire Cars (former TransAD), or the police. for not following regulations or if someone complains about them.
“Yesterday, I got fined because I dropped a customer on the side of a busy road instead of at a bus stop. My fare was Dh7, I got fined Dh200,” Ahmed said.
Drivers said they are not supposed to stop on busy streets, and if caught doing so they can be fined.
“I know I might get fined for stopping where I am not supposed to, but what can I do? I don’t want to argue with a customer and tell him no. Then he can call and complain about me,” he added.
Ahmed’s comments about the customer being king were echoed by almost all the taxi drivers Gulf News spoke with.
Rajesh, a 38-year-old Nepali taxi driver who has been working in Abu Dhabi for the past eight years, said, “We are not allowed to stop in many places because of safety issues, but customers don’t know this. This can cause problems,” said Rajesh.
“For example, we are not allowed to pick up anyone from Mushrif Mall’s Airport Road (Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Street) side. But a customer might call and complain that I didn’t stop for them,” explained Rajesh.
Kumar, a taxi driver from India, said that customers or other drivers often get frustrated with him for driving at the speed limit.
“Some people don’t know that if I drive above the speed limit, the car will give me three warnings then it will automatically issue a Dh100 fine,” said Kumar.
“It can be very stressful driving for 15 hours a day. I try and not get upset if I am fined or if someone complains about me, but not everyone can manage the stress,” Kumar added.
Mohammed, a driver from Pakistan, said, “If my customer uses the front USB to charge his phone, I can get fined. If I don’t let the customer charge [his phone], he might complain about me,” he said.
Attracting fines can affect his mood and concentration specially if he is short on his target.
“What can I do? My mind is on my family who will be getting less money for my mistake,” said Mustafa.
John, a driver from Africa, has only been on his job for six months and is already thinking of switching profession. “This is a tough job. The hours are long and a mistake can see my salary being reduced,” said John.
“If I don’t wear my uniform properly, I can get fined,” said Mustafa, a taxi driver from India.
But there are also drivers who believe the job, if done properly, is a rewarding one. Noor, a taxi driver from Bangladesh who has been in the capital for over seven years, disagreed with his colleagues’ comments.
“I follow all the rules and I don’t get fined. I meet my target and I get a good salary at the end. I love my job,” he said.
He said he loved his job so much that he helped his brother also get a job as a taxi driver in Abu Dhabi.
He has rarely had a difficult customer and on the occasions that he did, his company was understanding of his predicament.
Gulf News sat with TransAD’s General Manager to get a better understanding of driver’s fines and how complaints by customers are handled.
“TransAD are focused on safety, this is a very critical issue for us. So there are a number of regulations that drivers have to follow. This is in the interest of both the drivers and the customers,” said Mohammad Darwish Al Qamzi, General Manager, TransAD.
Al Qamzi, who was open to any questions, confirmed that taxis are not allowed to stop everywhere, specially on busy roads, due to the dangerous circumstances that it can create.
“If they stop illegally, the can get fined by the police, not just TransAD,” Al Qamzi said. “We understand that some areas don’t have the right infrastructure that’s why we use even the bus stops for pickups and drop-offs. In areas that are not busy and there is no traffic, they (taxi drivers) can stop on the sides of the roads and no one would fine them,” Al Qamzi added.
Al Qamzi added that when taxis stop on busy roads it can really frustrate other drivers and cause traffic jams, or worse, accidents.
Using Mushrif Mall as an example, Al Qamzi said that drivers are not allowed to stop on the Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Street (former Airport Road) side of the mall for pickup or drop off as there had been too many complaints and accidents because of this.
Al Qamzi explained that all complaints are reviewed and investigated. After an initial review, complaints without basis are not pursued however, if a complaint is taken to a second stage, the driver will be brought in and the customer will be contacted to find out exactly what had happened.
“No one will be punished without a reason,” said Al Qamzi.
“If there is a complaint that has no basis the driver should not be worried because we have cameras inside all taxis and there are cameras outside too, so it is easy to investigate,” he added.
All Abu Dhabi taxis have been fitted with a camera to provide a safer environment for drivers and customers.
Al Qamzi confirmed that there is a USB connection inside the taxi which neither the driver nor customers are allowed to use as it can tamper with the meter and the GPS.
He also confirmed that drivers can be fined if they are not wearing their full uniforms and not following TransAD’s standards. He added that drivers are provided with a laundry service for their uniforms and issued new uniforms every year, so there should not be a reason to not wear them.
“There are over 6 million trips a month made by taxis in the emirate of Abu Dhabi, and almost 90 per cent of those trips have been in the city of Abu Dhabi,” Al Qamzi said. “So plenty of people depend on the taxi service and we have to provide them with the best service.”
Al Qamzi said that while the drivers have a stressful job due to the nature of being behind a wheel for long periods of time, they still have to respect the customers and other drivers.